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Tara West

AdWords Quality Score Guide: Types of Quality Score & How to Improve Them

24th Oct 2013 Paid Search, Display Advertising, Paid Search, Google AdWords, Paid Search | 7 Comments


Quality ScoreThe value of having a strong Quality Score has increased in recent times, with an article from Larry Kim suggesting that the Cost per Click savings as a result of having a high Quality Score are even greater than they used to be (200% more valuable to be precise!). The only problem is that it has become increasingly more challenging to achieve a high Quality Score compared to past years.

You’re probably familiar with the basics of Quality Score, but there is a lot more to it than AdWords publicise. This blog post will cover the different types of AdWords Quality Score and suggest some tips for improving them.

How Does Quality Score Affect Your AdWords Account?

Quality Score is a way for AdWords to ensure that relevant and quality ads are returned to users. AdWords uses Quality Score to balance the relevance and quality of ads alongside their CPC bid (ad rank).

Quality Score is fundamental to a healthy AdWords account because it determines your eligibility to take part in ad auctions. If you have a poor Quality Score because your ads aren’t relevant enough, it doesn’t matter how high you bid, you will always be limited in your AdWords performance and it will be much more costly to use AdWords.

It is also an element which determines Ad Rank. Ad Rank ultimately determines where in the paid search results your ad will appear. This means that if you have a high Quality Score, you will achieve a higher ad rank and will therefore be eligible to show higher up in the paid search results (at a lower cost).

Another key element of Ad Rank is your bids (AdRank = Max. CPC x Quality Score and Expected Ad Extensions Performance) and it is important to be aware that your bid is just as influential as Quality Score in determining where you’ll appear in the paid search results.

If you can get in the top positions whilst still remaining cost effective, you can also take advantage of sitelinks and other ad extensions, which will further increase your CTR and enhance your Quality Score.

The higher your Quality Score, the less you tend to pay per click (CPC). This is because Google charge you less for a click if your ads, landing pages and other factors are as relevant as possible to the search query. It’s their way of balancing the relevancy of ads with the CPC bid.

Cost per Click is calculated using the formula:

Ad Rank of the ad below yours divided by your Quality Score.

The Seven Types Of Quality Score And How To Improve Them

The only Quality Score you’ll find in your account is at keyword level, however many PPC specialists acknowledge that there are other levels of Quality Score than keyword level.

Account Level Quality Score

The overall historical performance of all keywords and ads in an account determine what is known as account level Quality Score.

This means that if you have a large level of low Quality Score keywords in your account (perhaps from a low CTR, low relevance or other factors), you will have a low level account Quality Score.

When you have a low overall account level Quality Score, it means that any new keywords, ad groups or campaigns, will struggle to achieve a high Quality Score because the overall account Quality Score will limit them.

The existence of an account level Quality Score is also supported by the fact that older PPC accounts which have a large level of history within them tend to perform better than completely new accounts (assuming their history is good and they don’t have lots of poor performing keywords). So if you were to add a new keyword into an account which has a strong history, you will probably find that it performs better and gains a strong Quality Score faster than it would have done if you put it into a brand new account with no history.

The overall performance of your account in geographical locations is also taken into consideration at account level for Quality Score. This means that if there are poorly performing geographical locations for your account, you may find that they negatively affect your overall account level Quality Score.

How to improve your Account Level Quality Score:

  • Do not simply create a new AdWords account for your site if it already has one in existence, as this is against AdWords policy (even though you may have seen this work effectively, if you get caught you might get your account permanently suspended which blacklists your domain from being used in any AdWords account).
  • The best thing to do if you have lots of poorly performing campaigns and ad groups is pause all existing campaigns and create new campaigns from scratch.
  • Don’t cut and paste your old keywords because they will take their Quality Score history with them if you do that.
  • Start from scratch in the account with new campaigns and new keyword research (you can use ideas from your old campaigns as long as you create them from scratch and don’t cut and paste them).
  • Once your new campaigns are ready, you should delete your old campaigns, as I have a sneaky suspicion that paused campaigns have more of an effect on Quality Score than deleted ones.
  • Be aware that Google recognises new keywords which have previously been in the account but are now deleted and so you may still have Quality Score issues if you just create the same keywords again. Having said this, it’s probably the only option if you’ve tried everything you can to increase the Quality Score of the original version of the keyword and had no positive progress.
  • Remember that if you have a low Quality Score for a keyword and re-create it, you must do everything you can to improve the Quality Score of the new keyword such as review the landing page relevance and other Quality Score factors.
  • If a keyword continually has a low Quality Score it may be best to simply delete it from the account and find other keyword variations which are more relevant to your product or service.
  • Regularly review your campaign performance by geographical location, using data in the dimensions tab and then set bid adjustments for any locations where the average position and CTR is low so that the bid is higher and can help increase average position which should result in an increase in CTR. If particular geographical locations continually perform poorly in terms of CTR, you may wish to exclude them from your campaigns all together using the location exclusion functionality, which means they won’t have a negative effect on your site moving forwards. Review user locations too, and exclude any which are irrelevant and may be having a negative effect on your CTR.
  • If you run a local business you should structure your account so that you can tightly control the locations you are targeting in multiple campaigns (even though Google now says to target them all in one campaign and use bid adjustments) – you can learn more about structuring AdWords accounts for local business here.

The next Quality Score type is the main one Google promote:

Keyword Level Quality Score

Keyword level Quality Score is the Quality Score that you can see when you log into AdWords. It’s the official kind of Quality Score that Google promote to advertisers to help them improve their ads.

Match Types and Keyword Quality Score

Quality Score at keyword level is reportedly calculated based only on queries that exactly match your keyword. This means that your Quality Score will be the same for any keyword, regardless of match type. Although I am sceptical that this is true, my experience has lead me to believe that Quality Score considers your match type when it is calculated, so that if a broad match keyword has lots of less relevant search queries triggering it, this is considered and allowed for within the calculation of Quality Score, so that the Quality Score of a broad match keyword wouldn’t be negatively affected in Quality Score simply because it has less relevant keywords triggering it, as that is the nature of broad match.

The best analogy I can think of for explaining this is when someone who is unwell during an exam is given some lenience on their end score because they were unwell. Broad match and phrase match keywords are given some lenience in their Quality Score because it is natural that the search queries which trigger them aren’t going to be as relevant as those which trigger an exact match keyword.

Average Position and Keyword Level Quality Score

The average position of your ads does not directly affect your Quality Score. Google consider the positions of ads when calculating Quality Score, by assuming that when ads have higher average positions they are bound to achieve higher CTRs. For example if an ad has a high average position and achieves a high CTR as a result, this will be compensated for when its Quality Score is calculated and it will not benefit from it.

Similarly if an ad has a low average position resulting in a lower CTR, AdWords considers it when calculating Quality Score, so that it doesn’t have a negative effect. It’s kind of like creating a level playing field regardless of where your ad is shown in results. I believe that this is because average position is affected most significantly by bids, rather than Quality Score factors, and so it wouldn’t ensure the most relevant results were returned if AdWords considered strong average positions as part of Quality Score.

Impression Thresholds and Keyword Quality Score

If your keywords don’t have many impressions, Keyword Quality Score is based on a kind of ‘industry average’ Quality Score that is determined using data from Google.com, until your keywords achieve a significant number of impressions within your own account. Once the keyword has reached the impression threshold, its Quality Score will reflect its performance in your account rather than a historical industry average. There isn’t any official knowledge of what the impression threshold is, although I believe it might be determined on an average for each particular vertical or industry.

This is why it’s really important to prioritise optimisation of keywords with lots of impressions as these are the ones which will influence the performance of your account. Create an impression weighted Quality Score for your keywords so you know you’re working on the ones which will have an impact. You can do this by multiplying each keyword Quality Score by the number of impressions accrued to that keyword:

Quality Score Weighted Impressions

To boost the number of impressions your keywords get in the initial stages of a campaign or new account, you could try:

  • Adding Modified Broad Match versions of your keywords, using the + modifier before any word that you want to ensure appears in search queries triggering your ads (it’s a good way of controlling broad match so it doesn’t run away with your budget).
  • Don’t just go after niche / long tail keywords – make sure the majority of keywords you are targeting have significant search demand and don’t be afraid to target more generic keywords (especially on phrase / exact match).

What is a good keyword level Quality Score?

Originally, a Quality Score of 7 was thought to be a good average level, however recently it has become harder to achieve a QS of 7. In my experience, a Quality Score of between 5 and 6 is now average and a Quality Score of 7 is strong. A Quality Score above 7 is becoming even more rare and should be considered a good achievement.

There are so many different tactics for improving keyword level Quality Score, that I’m not going to be able to cover them within this blog post unfortunately, but the primary factor to improve is the relevancy between your keyword, ad text and landing page.

Ad Group Level Quality Score

Ad group level Quality Score doesn’t have any specific Quality Score elements, but is all about increasing the relevance of your ad groups so your keywords and ads are relevant to each other and achieve a strong CTR.

Ways to improve your Ad Group level Quality Score are:

  • Ensure tightly themed ad groups – ideally with only one keyword per ad group.
  • Split out keywords even if the theme is the same but the CTR is different – for example if you have two keywords which are the same except for match type, but they have different CTR’s, then they should be in separate ad groups so the lower CTR keyword doesn’t have a negative effect on the overall ad group quality score.
  • Use bid adjustments for mobile devices at ad group level, rather than campaign level, so that you can have more granular control over your ad group performance and Quality Score on mobile devices.

This is not to be confused with Ad Level quality score:

Ad Level Quality Score

Your ads are a key factor for determining your CTR, which is one of the most important contributing factors for your Quality Score.

Having low CTR ads in your ad groups will be having a negative effect on your Quality Score.

Ways to improve your ad level Quality Score:

  • Delete any ads with a CTR of less than 1.5% and create new ones from scratch. Although the ad copy itself might not be the only factor which contributes to a low Quality Score, because other factors like bid and average position also have a huge impact, ad copy is a good place to start optimising.
  • Ensure your account structure is finely tuned so you have tightly grouped keyword themes within each ad group, allowing you to have highly tailored ad text for each ad in that ad group, so the ads are highly relevant to the keywords. Ensure the keyword is mentioned in the ad headline and a variation of it within the ad body if possible. You should also ensure the display URL contains the keyword if possible as this is one area of the ad where the CTR has a particularly strong impact on your Quality Score.
  • If you don’t have the time to tightly theme your ad groups down to one keyword per ad group, try using Dynamic Keyword Insertion, but make sure you are really confident in using it and that it is set up correctly or it could have a negative effect on your CTR – read more about it here.

Let’s not forget about the pages themselves:

Landing Page Quality Score

The relevance and performance of your landing page is another factor which contributes to your Quality Score. Landing page Quality Score is an important factor in the overall Quality Score puzzle, but please note that it isn’t going to directly affect your CTR which is the main thing that influences your Quality Score. It’s still really important to optimise landing pages as they are one of many boxes to tick in the quest for a strong Quality Score. The additional benefit of good landing pages, is that they also generally improve your conversion rate.

Landing page quality is assessed by the AdWords Quality Score ‘algorithm’, as well as by spot checks from real people.

The factors Google list as influencers on the landing page element of Quality Score are relevance of content, transparency and trustworthiness, and ease of navigation.

Ways to increase your landing page Quality Score:

  • Check the keywords with a low Quality Score and hover over the speech bubble next to them, which will rate your landing page element of Quality Score so you can see which keyword landing pages need optimisation most.
  • Increase page loading speed using tools like this one.
  • Ensure the content on your PPC landing pages is unique (don’t just copy from other websites or other pages on your own site – even if the duplicate content is blocked organically via your robots.txt or other means).
  • If your page is spot checked by humans, they will assess whether it clearly explains what the business / product / service is about, so make sure your site content answers that question clearly and concisely.
  • Ensure the landing page is very relevant to the ad copy you created, and the keywords you are bidding on. For example if you were bidding on ‘red jimmy choo shoes’ and then you land the user on a category page of all Jimmy Choo shoes, it wouldn’t be as relevant as if you landed them on the product page for your most popular Jimmy Choo shoes, or even a category page containing all the red Jimmy Choos you stock.
  • Ensure your business contact information is clearly on the page (telephone, email and postal address, and registered business number).
  • Ensure your privacy policy is clearly accessible from the landing page (if your landing page has a contact form, you should put a link to the privacy policy at the start of the form).
  • If you are bidding on mobile devices, ensure your site functions well on mobiles and has a smooth navigation.
  • Tablets are included with desktop traffic in AdWords so you must ensure your site functions well on tablets and has a smooth navigation.
  • If you have only a select summary of information on your PPC landing page so as to keep it uncluttered and draw attention to the call-to-action.
  • Avoid having excessive ads on the page.
  • Avoid pop-ups on the page.
  • It is the overall site which is assessed as a landing page, as well as the particular landing pages which you direct traffic to, so if the rest of your site isn’t as high quality as your PPC landing pages, you should block the AdsBot-Google crawler from accessing the rest of your site. Ensure you don’t block it from accessing your PPC landing pages too though. Add the following to your robots.txt file, amending my example for the areas of your site that you don’t want AdWords to crawl:

User-agent: AdsBot-Google
Disallow: /example/

Display Network Quality Score

Display Network Quality Score is calculated with some differences to the search network Quality Score.

  1. If the display campaign uses CPM bidding, the Quality Score is based on the landing page quality primarily.
  2. If a CPC bidding model is used, the historical CTR of the ad is considered in Quality Score, along with landing page quality.

Display network Quality Score affects display network ad rank slightly differently depending on the targeting method used. Essentially ad rank for display network is:

Ad Rank = Bid × Quality Score

If you use placement targeting and CPM bidding, your bid at ad group or placement level is used, alongside your ad group level Quality Score. If you use CPC and keyword targeting it will be your keyword level bids which are used alongside Quality Score.

Ways to improve display network Quality Score:

  • Test different ad creative (consider different calls-to-action, different colour schemes, different images, different logo positions and different lay-outs).
  • Test ad types on different sites (sometimes text ads might work better on some display network sites than image ads or rich media ads).
  • Create a version of each ad creative in every different ad format and ensure each ad group has one of every ad format in it – this ensures you are eligible as often as possible as not all sites accept all ad formats.
  • Add sites that work well as managed placements so you can increase your bid on them, which will help your Quality Score.
  • Try multiple targeting methods (demographic, sites, keywords, audiences etc) and use multiple targeting types together – learn about all targeting types here.
  • Always separate search network and display campaigns so they don’t affect each other’s performance and are easier to review and optimise.
  • Review lost impression share due to rank and increase bids on placements where you are losing impression share (assuming the placements are relevant and valuable to you as an advertiser).
  • Review Relative CTR by adding it as a column to the campaign or ad group tables. Relative CTR is the campaign’s CTR divided by the CTR of the other ads running in the same places, which tells you how your ads are performing in comparison to others on the same page. If your CTR is poor compared to other ads on the same page, you can learn to improve it by changing your ad creative. If it’s high compared to other ads on the same page then you know the ad is relevant to the placements’ content.
  • If you chose to exclude sites due to poor performance rather than relevancy, make sure you let them gain significant levels of impressions before making your decisions so you have enough data to base decisions on.
  • Use negative keywords in display campaigns.
  • Add strong performing sites from automatic placement campaigns to managed placement campaigns and increase their bids if they are valuable to you.

With the growth in mobile device use, that too plays a role:

Mobile Devices and Quality Score

AdWords calculates Quality Score for mobile devices in the same way as it is calculated for desktop devices, however the performance of your campaigns on mobile vs the performance of campaigns on desktop won’t affect each other’s Quality Score. This means if your campaigns always get a poor CTR on mobile and they have a low Quality Score on mobile as a result, your desktop campaigns won’t be negatively affected by them.

The only additional aspect which is taken into account is the users’ location and the business’ location (where such data is available). This means that location performance is even more crucial on mobile devices, so pay particular attention to the location data in the dimensions tab if you bid on mobile devices, and then use location bid adjustments and location exclusions to optimise your performance for location. Although you can’t specifically optimise your location performance for mobiles alone, you can optimise for location across all devices which will still have an impact.

The Long Game

Hopefully this post has provided some insight into the lesser well known aspects of Quality Score, and given you some ideas on how to improve each type.

Improving Quality Score can be a long process, and the changes you make probably won’t have an instant effect. Account level Quality Score in particular can take weeks or months to improve, but once you’ve got it back in shape the benefits are more than worth it.

If you have any questions about Quality Score please leave them below.

Image Credit
Awesome Evaluation Form via BigStock

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About the author

Tara West

Tara West is an experienced SEO and PPC specialist at Koozai, with particular expertise within AdWords PPC and Remarketing. She has worked on a wide variety of verticals, from plumbing and travel to fashion and beauty.

Beginners-Guide-To-AdWords

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